Der Spiegel, The Times share how they put GenAI tools to work in the newsroom

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, USA


Generative AI presents numerous opportunities for newsrooms to become more efficient, and during this week’s Webinar, INMA members heard how two European companies are harnessing GenAI’s power and reaping its benefits.

Smart ways to use GenAI to assist the newsroom, presented by the INMA Generative AI Initiative, provided a close-up look at how Germany’s Der Spiegel and The Times in the UK are leveraging GenAI in innovative ways.

Sonali Verma, Generative AI Initiative lead, noted that internal workflows are a major beneficiary of GenAI, adding it’s a good starting place because it’s lower risk than doing something audience-facing: “And within those workflows, the newsroom is the dominant use case. Everyone wants to help their journalists, their reporters and editors.”

Using GenAI for all the right reasons

Ole Reissmann, director of AI for Der Speigel, said the company is in the early stages of embracing GenAI, and its use cases have tapped into the “tremendous opportunities before the actual writing of an article and after the actual writing of an article.”

Reismann cautioned against using GenAI to provide information for a story, considering how often it finds incorrect information.

“What GenAI is good at, in my opinion, is hallucination and stereotypes,” he quipped. But it also excels at gathering unstructured data, which he said presents many opportunities for newsrooms.

Ole Reismann explained some of the things GenAI does well and how newsrooms can leverage it.
Ole Reismann explained some of the things GenAI does well and how newsrooms can leverage it.

The third thing GenAI does well is provide transformation: “I think a real opportunity with LLMs lies here,” he said, explaining it’s easy to put text into a machine and quickly receive a summary, podcast, translation, or video.

For now, Der Spiegel is willing to use GenAI to do “everything but write the article,” he said. “We are starting with research, transcriptions, editing, fact-checking.” Once an article is written, “we can think about the production distribution, transformations like text-to-speech, maybe translations.”

Newsrooms should be cautious when using AI because of the risks of false information and the effect that can have on public trust. When implementing AI programmes, the questions to ask are why the company wants to use it and whether it fits in with the overall values and mission.

With that in mind, Der Spiegel uses GenAI for personalisation, fact-checking, chat, text-to-speech, audio updates, and more.

The company’s fact-checking department now has a tool that allows users to enter an article, press a button, and, in a matter of seconds, receive results that tell if there is any incorrect information in the story. It checks every claim in the article and verifies it through Der Spiegel’s LLM, but it also conducts a Web search to double-check claims. In the future, Reismann said, the company will add its own archives to the fact-checking tool.

Der Spiegel's chat tool provides access to the company's extensive database of articles.
Der Spiegel's chat tool provides access to the company's extensive database of articles.

The company’s second tool is a chat tool, which allows access to its sizeable archives.

“We have one of the larger press archives in Germany. There’s so much stuff in there — not only our articles but all the articles you can find in all of Germany,” he said. Now, Der Spiegel is building LLM search capability into the press archive.

The internal tool will soon be tested with the newsroom: “It could be really useful to write context paragraphs to get some background information really fast,” Reismann said.

Chasing value, not gimmicks

At The Times and Sunday Times, a publishing copilot tool is helping journalists become more efficient. Two of GenAI’s strongest strategic benefits are protecting journalism and improving efficiency, said Luke Sikkema, head of editorial operations.

“We’re really keen to keep everything that we were trying to do in our business focused on the newsroom and what we’re doing here to tell better stories,” he said.

The Times dates back to 1785, and the Sunday Times began in 1822, so there is “a deep and rich archive” to draw on. Sikkema said many conversations around GenAI have looked at how to unlock the value of the archives better.

Embracing GenAI begins with understanding its strategic benefits.
Embracing GenAI begins with understanding its strategic benefits.

“We decided to focus on essentially making sure that we could publish better stories faster and introducing a co-pilot within our core CMS,” Sikkema said. “It’s all about freeing [journalists] up to perform high-value work.”

The Newspress Co-pilot provides headline suggestions, article summaries, and alt text for images — with more features coming.  “Crucially, all of that’s done in the Times style and voice.”

The headline suggestions offered to the sub-editors or journalists are just that: suggestions.

“They are still accountable, responsible for that content. They can use that and improve it or discard it and write their own.”

The Newspress Co-pilot provides headline suggestions, article summaries, and alt text for images.
The Newspress Co-pilot provides headline suggestions, article summaries, and alt text for images.

To implement the programme, The Times used a small cross-functional team of just seven people who worked on the prototyping before moving it into the proof of value stage. That led to rebuilding some aspects of the Co-pilot before it moved into the beta phase of testing, where for two months they asked journalists to “kick the tyres” on it.

More than 600 headlines were created by 45 journalists during this phase. Sikkema said they were intentional about selecting both journalists who were confident in using AI as well as those who were wary of it: “I knew [they] would be brutally honest and brutally critical of what we were trying to do here,” he said.

Now, however, they can see it’s not about being replaced by a bot but rather about receiving tools to help them do their jobs more efficiently.

Being able to quantify the ROI of the Co-pilot was an important part of the process, and Sikkema did research at the beginning of the process to understand how long it took for humans to perform tasks  assigned to the Co-pilot. With the tool now in place, it was easy to note how much it increased the speed of writing headlines, and surveys showed that both journalists and readers preferred the AI-generated headlines.

But Sikkema emphasised that this is just a tool, not a replacement or a crutch: “We’re not asking our journalists to use these tools across every single story. It’s just one tool in their tool belt.

“If they’re using it on some of the lower value stories that don’t get much SEO keyword help or attention, they can improve that with these tools. And that can allow them to focus on the high-value pieces at the top of the site where they want to apply the human creativity and free up our journalists to focus on there.”

About Paula Felps

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